This video essay was conceived in part thanks to a great article I read a few months ago, titled “The Decline of the American Actor”.
The article, written by Terrence Rafferty, basically attempts to split apart the myth of great acting; that it is something that can be taught, or that is observable. It’s mainly the reframing of Marlon Brando, not as a prodigy of Method acting, but as a person with a unique energy, one which was not necessarily improved by his training.
If energy was the most important thing for acting, this opened up the field for a lot of actors who don’t claim any Method training. I thought of Gene Wilder, Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Chan, Leslie Nielsen, Cary Grant; all actors who I think were brilliant, but who never went outside their comfort zones the way we’ve been taught good actors should.
Cary Grant in particular was one whose under-appreciation irked me. How could an actor star in so many brilliant films, and not be considered a great actor?
The reason I made the video essay on the topic of Schwarzenegger was because I think he’s a harder sell than those other actors. But ironically he’s also the one that the most amount of people will be able to understand his appeal. What I mean is his line delivery and interactions are often imperfect, but everybody has seen and loved him in a film. It seems like nit-picking to not consider him a great actor just because his appeal is nothing like that of Marlon Brando.
Schwarzenneger now styles himself as a man who went to America and made his fortune, and watching interviews with him, he is quite lucid about his own appeal. But at the same time, nobody asks him about acting. So many of his interviews are about weightlifting and politics, as if acting is something he lucked into.
But James Cameron saw his appeal, as did Paul Verhoeven and Bob Rafelson. So if you don’t think Arnold Schwarzenegger is the greatest film actor of all time before you watch this video essay, I hope that by the end of it you at least see why he should be considered a candidate.